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When the Wedding Bell Rings Marriage’s Knell

Ah, beautiful brides and handsome grooms! The Sunday Magazine of the San Francisco Examiner (June 27, 1999) is full of them, for it is the annual wedding issue. (There really ought to be a government warning under each photo: These are professionals. Do not attempt to look this good yourself.) The colorful mag is mostly advertisements, of course, from hoteliers, caterers, furnishers, dressmakers, and jewelers, but the ads are separated by thin strips of editorial copy, and a reader expects the articles to be as bubbly and full of promise as the gorgeous ads.

But the writing is dispiriting despite its breezy tone, for the articles are about — and evidently for — people who are creedless, churchless, pastorless, traditionless, and clueless. The magazine advises that you can, and should, invent your own ceremony, write your own vows, and ordain your own minister (at the county clerk’s office, says one writer, “for $25, I was sworn in as a Deputy Commissioner of Civil Marriages, which allowed me to perform one wedding ceremony on a given date in a given location…”). The featured couples all sound hip, sassy, sensitive, whimsical — and lost. Their dominant trait — their faith, if you will — is a self-assured consumerism. Religions, traditions, and sacred rites are to them a jumble of superannuated junk, and cultures are salvage yards full of colorful kitsch through which they can rummage to pluck whatever scraps appeal to them.

Take Abigail and Ryan, “a creative and effusive couple.” Abigail’s father left her mother when Abigail was five “and joined the gay-rights movement. Abigail’s mom has since remarried and divorced.” Abigail “never imagined she’d get married.” But she and Ryan forged bravely ahead. “There was no priest, minister or rabbi to counsel (a friend officiated at their wedding…).” “Because Abigail is half Jewish–half Catholic, and Ryan is a non-practicing Presbyterian,” they “mixed and matched rituals,” taking “hand-fasting [a betrothal ritual] from paganism…, a huppah from Judaism, Pablo Neruda from eroticism,…you name it. As for the vows, Abigail says they kept them simple, ‘so we could transcend them.’ I promise to love you, and keep you in great shoes.”

Sam and Miriam likewise invented their own nuptials; they had “a Unitarian minister,…the breaking of a glass…from Jewish tradition, and their vows were Buddhist.” Or, actually, sort of Buddhist. Says Sam: “We’re not Buddhist but we have Buddhist tendencies.”

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